In case you didn’t know, 31 March is World Backup Day. There’s a silly event for every day of the year and they rarely mean anything, but this one is worth noting because backing up data is crucial and it’s often something which is neglected until it’s too late.

Why back up?

Data you don’t have backed up is data you don’t want. Disaster can strike in all manner of ways at any time. Hard drives and SSDs can fail without warning, hardware can be stolen, viruses could damage data, or storage devices could be physically destroyed in fires or natural disasters.

backup 4Sometimes it is possible to recover data from a damaged drive but this may not be cheap or easy. It’s far better to have backups safely stored away so you know that vital information can always be restored.

Backup methods – which is best?

There are numerous options for backing up data but broadly speaking you’ll either be storing files locally, on a storage medium in your possession, or saving to a remote location.

“The “3-2-1” rule of backups is to have three copies, on two different formats, with one kept at a different location”

 

Ideally you should do both. The “3-2-1” rule of backups is to have three copies, on two different formats, with one kept at a different location. This should safeguard against most problems – if the copies you have locally are lost or destroyed you can always turn to the remote backup.

Perhaps the most cost effective local backup medium for small businesses, including sole traders and home workers, is a hard drive. They offer a large amount of storage space for not much money and have reasonable longevity and durability.

backup2Hard disks are flexible, too, as they they can be installed inside a computer or used externally. There’s also the option of using a Network Attached Storage (NAS) setup so the backup drive is available over a local network or remotely over the internet, and building a robust RAID configuration where your backups are automatically replicated over multiple hard disks to protect against drive failure.

Optical discs are another option. CD, DVDs and Blu-rays provide a reasonable amount of storage space and the blank media is fairly cheap (even if Blu-ray remains a little pricey). Optical discs can also be easily stored too, though long term durability is concerning. As well as the risk of scratching they can also suffer ‘disc rot’ which can damage data or render them completely unreadable. You should plan for this and regularly refresh optical backups, as well as taking care to store them safely. It’s especially important to keep optical discs away from direct sunlight and high temperatures.

The power of the cloud

When it comes to storing remote backups you could use an external hard drive or optical discs which are kept o ff-site. Alternatively, eliminate some of this hassle by taking advantage of cloud storage services. These keep your data tucked away on a remote server, and have the added bonus of making files remotely available.

backup1 There are many different services offering remote storage, some free but with limited data caps (such as Dropbox or Google Drive) and others that provide very high capacity or unlimited storage for a monthly fee (for example, Crashplan, BackBlaze or SpiderOak).

Generally, they work by providing you with a software application which handles the processing and uploading of data. When evaluating a cloud storage service you should carefully check the software to ensure it meets your needs. Some packages will allow you to configure the backup down to individual files and folders while others will simply upload the entire contents of a computer. If a free trial is available use this to check the capabilities of the software as well as the speed of the upload and the reliability of its recovery systems.

“You must consider the security of your data when it comes to cloud storage”

 

But as useful as they are, you must consider the security of your data when it comes to cloud storage. One risk is that someone with access to your systems could download, damage or erase the backups before you know what’s happened, so it’s important to have adequate security in place to protect any computers or accounts which use the service.

You should also implement encryption to hinder access to the data, whether that’s an intruder on your systems or someone at the cloud provider. Many services offer built-in encryption, but if this is not available or you’d prefer not to trust it, there are numerous paid-for or free packages which make it easy to encrypt data before uploading.

One final note about cloud storage – you will need a broadband package with a rapid upload rate if you’re going to be storing a large amount of data. Trying to upload terabytes of files on an ADSL connection would be an extremely lengthy process and leave your files exposed to catastrophe in the meantime.

Matt Powell